By April 14, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

Miqsat Ma’ase HaTorah (4QMMT), Elisha Qimron, Anchor Bible Dictionary (ed. David Noel Freedman), Doubleday, New York 1992.

The Dead Sea Scrolls
MIQṢAT MA’ASE HATORAH (4QMMT). A sectarian polemical document, six incomplete manuscripts of which (4Q394–99) were discovered in Qumran cave 4. Taken together, they provide a composite text of about 120 lines. The preserved text, which apparently covers about two-thirds of the original scroll, derives from the middle and the end of the document. The beginning is completely lost.
The document is in the form of a letter (having a sender and an addressee) and is unique in language, style, and contents. The title miqṣat ma˓asê hattorâ, meaning “some of the precepts of the Torah,” has been taken from the concluding passage, reading- “we are sending you some of the precepts of the Torah.”

A. Contents, Structure, and Historical Setting

It appears that MMT consisted originally of four sections- (1) an opening formula, now completely lost; (2) a calendar of the sect (with a 364-day year); (3) a list of more than 20 halakhot ( = precepts), all of which are peculiar to this group; and (4) an epilogue which discusses the separation of the group from normative Pharisaic Judaism and attempts to persuade the addressee to adopt their halakhic views. The halakhot represent the heart of the letter, with the other sections as their framework (the calendar, although a separate section, belongs to the halakhic domain). Most of these halakhot concern the Temple, dealing with its purity, sacrifices, and festivals. The author states that disagreement over these halakhot is what caused the sect to secede (Heb pāraš) from the rest of the people (the verb paraš relates to the same root as the name of the Pharisees).
There are three parties in MMT referred to as we, you (sometimes singular, sometimes plural), and they. Who were these parties? Clearly the we-party is the author, who generally uses the expression “we maintain” (Heb ˒nḥnw hwšbym) expressing the sect’s halakhic views. The you-party is the addressee; the prevailing second person expression in this case is “and you know.” The addressee may be the leader of Israel, being compared to David and addressed as follows- “for the welfare of you and your people,” and “for the welfare of you and Israel.” The they-party is a group about whom it is said that “they do such-and-such,” where the reference in each case is to some specific halakhic practice. A study of the halakhic views of this group shows that they should be identified with the Pharisees.

It appears that MMT, which discusses the invalidity of the halakhot of the they-party (i.e., the Pharisees), was written by the Teacher of Righteousness and addressed to the Wicked Priest and his colleagues. This is inferred both from the contents of MMT and from Pesher Psalms 37 (= 4Q171 3–10 iv 7–9) which states that the Wicked Priest tried to kill the Teacher of Righteousness “because of the precepts and the law which he [ = the teacher] had sent him.” (Note the similar passage from MMT quoted above.) Assuming that the Wicked Priest is Jonathan the Prince, MMT was composed at about 150 B.C. It stands to reason that the schism mentioned in MMT occurred a short time before the composition of the document. The paleography may also imply such an early date, as does the contrast of MMT with the prohibition of disputes with opponents found in 1QS 9-16–17.

B. The Halakhot

The halakhot of MMT concern the Temple cult, and most are related to biblical laws as understood by the sect. The following halakhot are extant (in the order of their appearance in the text)-

1. Gentile grain should not be brought into the Temple.

2. A fragmentary halakha about the cooking of offerings.

3. A fragmentary halakha about sacrifices by gentiles.

4. Cereal offerings should not be left overnight.

5. The purity of those preparing the red heifer.

6. Several halakhot concerning the purity of skins.

7. The place of slaughtering and offering sacrifices.

8. Slaughtering pregnant animals.

9. Forbidden sexual unions.

10. Banning the blind and deaf from the “purity of the Temple.”

11. The purity of the streams of liquids poured from a pure vessel into an impure one.

12. Dogs should not enter into Jerusalem.

13. The fruit of the fourth year is to be given to the priests.

14. The cattle-tithe is to be given to the priest.

15. Several regulations about the impurity of the leper during the period of purification until final purification.

16. The impurity of human bones.

17. Marriages between priests and Israelites are forbidden.

Some of the halakhot are already known from the Temple Scroll (11QTemple, nos. 4, 18, 13, 16). Some others have no parallel either in the Temple Scroll or in any other text from Qumran. Of special interest are two halakhot that parallel halakhic views explicitly ascribed to the Sadducees (nos. 5, 11; cf. m. Yad. 4-7, Para 3-7). In both cases the halakhic views attributed to the Sadducees are identical to those of MMT. It is significant to note the similarity in terminology between MMT and the Mishna in these parallel halakhot. This similarity implies the existence of a polemic between the Dead Sea sect and the ancestors of the rabbis. Thus, other disputed halakhot in rabbinic literature and in the Dead Sea Scrolls may have their origins in this polemic—e.g., the halakha about the deaf (no. 10) throws light on the evidence in t. Ter. 1-1 that all the purities of Jerusalem were prepared by the deaf son of R. Yohanan ben Godgeda.

The halakhic attitude of MMT is much stricter than that of the rabbis. For example, MMT identifies Jerusalem with the Camp mentioned in the Torah and asserts that all purity laws which were to be observed in the Camp should be observed in Jerusalem (contrast the more lenient rabbinic attitude in t. Kelim, B. Qam. 1-12).

C. The Language

The Hebrew of MMT is peculiar. Its grammar is basically that of the other Dead Sea Scrolls. However, the relative particle is š- (˒šr occurs only once), and the participle is extensively used. An especially large number of Mishnaic words occur in the halakhic part of MMT; some of these are halakhic terms. There are also words unattested in any other Hebrew source. The following are of special interest- h˓rybwt hšmš, “sunset”; bšl š-, “so that”; bgll š-, “because”; prt hḥṭ˒t, “the red heifer”; m˓śym, “precepts”; ˓brh, “pregnant,” swmym, “blind,” mwṣqwt, “uninterrupted streams of liquid”; and mśktwb, “as is written.”

D. The Contribution of MMT to the Study of Judaism

At this early stage of research, the contribution of MMT can not be fully evaluated. The following are a few preliminary remarks.

1. As has been noted, MMT consists of controversial halakhot and thus provides evidence not only for the halakha of the sect, but also for that of its opponents. Examining the halakhic view of the latter, we learn that they are nearly always identical with those of the rabbis. This is also the case in additional polemical passages in other Dead Sea Scrolls. This identity proves that the opponents of the sect were the predecessors of the rabbis, most probably the Pharisees. It further demonstrates that the corresponding rabbinic halakha (to halakhot discussed in the Dead Sea Scrolls) was established at a very early date. This contradicts the view of those scholars who believe that the Pharisaic halakha was a “new” halakha. The halakhic correspondence with the Mishna serves to authenticate those historical sections in the rabbinic sources as truly reflecting the reality of the Second Temple period, even though they were put in written form much later (contra some recent scholarly trends).

2. MMT contributes much to our knowledge of the history of sectarianism in that period. For example, until now there was no explicit evidence concerning the reasons for the schism. Josephus gives the impression that the sects were primarily divided over theological questions, for instance those relating to the resurrection of the dead or the role of Divine providence. MMT proves that the real reason was the controversy over ritual laws. Josephus’ description should be understood as an attempt to produce an explanation that would make sense to his Greek (and Roman) readers.

3. Of special interest to biblical scholars are the interpretations given in MMT to certain juridical passages in the Torah in particular, and its methods of interpretation in general.

4. The contribution of MMT to the history of the Hebrew language is also significant, but requires a more detailed discussion than can be undertaken here.


Baumgarten, J. M. 1980. The Pharisaic-Sadducean Controversies about Purity and the Qumran Texts. JSS 31- 157–70.

Milik, J. T. 1962. Le rouleau de cuivre provenant de la grotte 3Q (3Q15)- orthographe et langue. DJD 3 (Texte)- 221–27.

Qimron, E. 1986. The Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls. HSS 29. Atlanta.

———. 1988. The Holiness of the Holy Land in the Light of a New Document from Qumran. Pp. 9–13 in Pillars of Smoke and Fire, ed. M. Sharon. Johannesburg.

Qimron, E., and Strugnell, J. 1985. An Unpublished Halakhic Letter from Qumran. BibAT Pp. 400–7.

Strugnell, J., and Qimron, E. fc. Miqṣat Ma˓ase HaTorah. 4Q394–399. HSS. Atlanta.

Vol.4, p.843-845

Post a Comment